In its recent Mindset of a Multi-Channel Shopper survey, MarketLive reports that 16 percent of respondents planned to do all or most of their holiday shopping via their smartphone or tablet--up from 3 percent in 2011. In addition, according to the National Retail Federation holiday consumer spending survey, more than half (53 percent) of shoppers who own smartphones and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of those who own tablets plan to use their devices to research and purchase holiday gifts.
While mobile commerce, mobile apps and QR codes have been around for several holiday seasons, many retailers are still not availing themselves of these important marketing and sales tools--or are using them ineffectively. And that reluctance to harness mobile or inability to leverage it may be costing businesses sales.
Make More Money With Mobile Commerce
To help you make the most of mobile, CIO.com asked dozens of mobile marketing and retail experts how businesses could improve their holiday sales via the use of mobile apps and mobile commerce. Following are their top nine tips.
Tip 1: Make sure your website is mobile friendly (i.e., you have a mobile version of your website). "Twenty-two percent of all local Google searches are done from smartphones," says Ron Rule, the vice president of ecommerce at Infusion Brands and ecommerce blogger . "Even if you aren't actively promoting an ecommerce site, if your website isn't mobile-friendly, you're missing out on traffic."
Indeed, retailers with "optimized mobile sites gain an average of twice the traffic and engagement per user than those without a mobile optimized site," says Priscilla Vento, partner and co-founder of ZapMobi, a free web service platform. "Online businesses and retailers small and large should be fully mobile web-optimized before the holiday rush. A mobile site where product info and checkout is simple for customers to view and navigate is key for increased mobile web sales this holiday season."
Tip 2: Make sure your mobile app is cross-platform. "Deploy a mobile presence across all key platforms in time for the shopping season to maximize your reach," says Francisco Kattan, vice president of Marketing at Exadel, an enterprise mobile software developer. "Deploy apps on iOS, Android and Windows devices and an HTML5 mobile web app to cover all other devices. If your app is not already done or well underway, leverage a rapid development platform such as Tiggzi that can deliver a complete app across platforms in days."
Tip 3: Use QR codes. "To get the most out of mobile this holiday season, retailers need to keep mobile customers in the store, by enhancing the in-store experience with QR codes on signage," says Jay Henderson, global strategy program director for IBM's Enterprise Marketing Management group. "By scanning a QR code, customers can be taken to online product pages, where additional information on the product is available, including item comparisons, reviews, price comparisons and the option to buy instantly." The bottom line: "By integrating the online experience with the physical one, retailers have a greater opportunity to retain both the customer and the sale."
Tip 4: Create a mobile special (coupon or discount). "According to the National Retail Federation, the most important factor in 2012 in deciding where to shop is offers for sales and discounts," says Noah Weiss, product manager, Foursquare. For example, "create a special that rewards a [Foursquare] check-in with money off select items or buy-one-get-one-free. Why? When a consumer checks-in, they are telling their entire friend network where they are. And when those friends use Explore on Foursquare (built for searching local businesses and points of interest), your store will index higher in search results."
Similarly, "use text or SMS to send out time sensitive deals," says Stuart Conway, development lead at Metia, a digital marketing agency. "Shoppers are always looking for deals from their favorite retailers, especially during the holidays. Marketers can reach shoppers on the go by sending personalized, time sensitive deals via SMS messages or email."
Another option: Offer coupons through a mobile coupon website. "Major merchants such as Macy's, Sears and Jo-Ann Fabric have already launched mobile coupon functionality through coupons.com's mobile site," notes Matthew Ong, a strategy analyst at NerdWallet, an online deals aggregator.
"When shoppers check coupons.com while they're out and about," Ong says, "they'll immediately spot these retailers' coupons and be able to load them to applications such as Apple's Passbook for iOS 6 with a few taps of the screen."
Tip 5: Use geo-targeting. "Geo-targeting technology is an advanced option to tap consumers on the shoulder while they are on the go," says Maciej Fita, SEO director, 36creative, a web branding and design agency. "Almost everyone is out looking for a deal, and having the ability to ping a consumer as they are walking by a store to let them know about a specific discount or promotion occurring is an amazing way to leverage a mobile application."
Tip 6: Participate in social gifting apps."Social gifting and using apps like Wrapp and Treater to send gifts conveniently via mobile are going to be big this season," predicts Bob Egner, vice president of Product Development and Global Marketing, EPiServer, a provider of web content management, online social community and ecommerce platforms.
"Participating with these third-party apps will allow even small retailers to take advantage of revenue-boosting mobile strategies that might otherwise be too expensive or difficult to implement," Egner says. Moreover, "these apps make it easier for retailers who wouldn't have otherwise been able to leverage an app to get into the mobile space--and reach more customers than ever before."
Tip 7: Embrace showrooming. "Approaches such as salespeople using iPhones or tablets on the showroom floor to assist and check-out customers [known as "showrooming"] work because they are a non-invasive approach that help customers at the point of purchase," says Gene Signorini, vice president of mobile insights at Mobiquity, a developer of enterprise-class mobile solutions and apps. "And it benefits both the customer and retailer by busting those long holiday lines."
Moreover, "store-optimized apps can detect people in the store and provide them with product info, reviews, shopping lists, online checkout and deals--all of which can all help turn mobile-assisted shoppers into loyal customers," says Larry Freed, the CEO of ForeSee, which provides customer experience analytics.
Tip 8: Deploy mobile cash registers. "With new technology from companies like Square, shop floor service assistants can checkout customers anywhere within a store," explains Richard Beck, co-founder and mobile strategist at Digital Possibilities, Inc., a mobile application developer. "That can drive immediate purchase decisions, not leaving customers to change their minds, and reduce lines at checkouts and hence barriers to paying."
Tip 9: Do NOT update your app during the holiday shopping season. "Marketers should avoid updating their mobile application(s) during the shopping season because users may be too busy or distracted to install the updates, and you don't want to be debugging your app during your busiest time of year," says Conway. "Furthermore, approval from the various marketplaces could take longer than expected and cause big timing problems."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees and partners.
Read more about e-commerce in CIO's E-commerce Drilldown.